Week 4: “I-We-You” Learning Process


By: Kelsey Lake, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

This week at RYSA included a few challenging moments but culminated in some exciting and encouraging progress. Marcus and I were very excited about the prospect of our classes working as teams to create stories on their own. We wanted to see at what degree of independence they could accomplish this is at the RYSA graduation performance. So, we gave them a Mad Libs type story structure, set a five -minute time limit, and for the older students told them they had to complete the group story without communicating verbally.

We had practiced filling out Mid Libs-style sentence stems and stories together as a class, but we didn’t realize that the task we actually set for the students was one they didn’t have much practice with – working as a team, without teacher supports, in the specific context of Storytelling class. The class quickly got a little chaotic: there was conflict between students, confusion about how to complete the task, and frustration as some students took leadership roles while others felt excluded and shut down.

Yikes! We let the timer run out and decided to spend time reflecting on “what went well” and “what could go better next time.” Most of the answers received – “listening to the teacher,” “doing better next time,” “not talking” – were rote responses about classroom behavior, instead of the reflection on teamwork that Marcus and I were driving towards.

Once Marcus and I had a chance to reflect, we realized we had set a task that many adults find difficult to achieve. Though we still believe firmly in the students’ ability to work as a team in Storytelling class, we realized also that we’d skipped an essential step of the “I-We-You” learning process. In fact, we had jumped all the way to the “You” phase, asking them to independently model a task and demonstrate comprehension of a concept that we hadn’t explicittly modeled ourselves or practiced with them in class activities.

So, for Thursday’s class, we decided to take a conscious step back and focus on reinforcing the storytelling and language concepts we’d been working on, but also including conversations, observations, and examples of how being part of a class was similar to working on a team – it includes compromise, respect, and listening as essential ingredients.

We temporarily lost sight of a main RYSA objective – to help students develop interpersonal skills. To get back on track, we made such skills part of our process, instead of expecting them to magically appear in class without practice or exploration. Students started embodying these teamwork principles in different ways; one very prominent example was the students putting their hands down after another classmate was called on, showing respect and giving space for other ideas. These small moments at RYSA are actually the big victories, helping students understand “school rules” from a perspective of teamwork and leadership skills, instead of just learning rules by rote.

As we helped the students learn, we had breakthroughs as educators. Sometimes, for one step forward, you take two steps back. But, if you refocus on the learning process rather than any products you’re driving towards, students and teachers together can grow in their understanding of teamwork and leadership skills in the classroom.

 

 

 

THE MIDPOINT: Where are we now?

By: Marcus Crawford Guy, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

Ok. I’ll be honest — when I saw that there were 5 full training days at the start of July for this program, I thought “What do they need to teach us that requires 40 hours of my time?” That’s more time than we’d spend actually instructing our students in the individual classrooms. It seemed so extensive and I couldn’t fathom how we’d be able to integrate all of this new information into our classrooms in the way our well-versed New York City, Dept. of Education colleagues would. The jargon, and the rigor with which it was being taught, seemed to separate me from the work I was desperate to do and had felt prepared to do.
 
But, here I am, halfway through the journey of RYSA R.I.S.E with this incredible body of students, and it’s all proving useful — some of it in small ways, others in more profound, and substantive ways, but I’m using it, it feels accessible and while it’s likely an imperfect product I’m delivering at times, it feels good to be wearing the teacher hat in a formal setting. And to be doing so with only 5 days of training vs. 4+ years (and college debt).
 
Training in hand, this week Kelsey and I dove in to tackle this large heading — Summative Assessment. Basically, we wanted to set a task that would gauge just how much our students have taken in in these past 3 weeks of class. What concepts have they held on to from our class and what skills are they able to exhibit that the program, at large, is trying to equip them with? This will help guide our second half of the course. So true to form, we put on our super academic hats, our serious faces, and played mad-libs with the kids! 
 
They loved it! Our youngest group, the Smiling Sunbeams, needed lots of scaffolds (another fancy education word, meaning support!) to help them through but they really latched on to certain ideas. Most importantly for us in the storytelling classroom imagination is a concept that the kids definitely know and love. This feels like a huge victory over iPad and game console culture. Our oldest group, the Rising Stars, knew all of the vocabulary that we had taught them, but struggled more with transferrable skills — cooperation, compromise and delegation of roles. This was a great opportunity to defer to our assistant teacher in the class, who spends the entire day with the students and could relate our learning, to those of other teachers in other classrooms. On a second attempt, they soared through the exercise.
 
 Finally — we led the Flying Arrows who had the most interesting response to the exercise. Many of the students in this class, have a very difficult time grasping the English language, while a core group of others are vocal, participatory and typically help Kelsey and I move the class along. Surprisingly, there were no spectators and everyone got involved. Our more able students took on leadership roles and made sure the large task was accomplished, while our true English Language beginners spent time searching through the words, sounding them out, using this exercise as an opportunity to be curious, to discover and to do so without feeling pressure to achieve. It was extraordinary to watch.
 
RYSA is teaching me so many things, but most importantly for this week, it was great to be equipped with the skills to actually gauge where our students are in their own process of skill-acquisition. It didn’t feel academic. It felt like I was prepared to serve the students, to witness their progress, and to talk about it with a degree of sophistication. We were told in training that we should be seeing the student, and not their trauma. I would take that one step further and acknowledge that this week we saw their growth – bright, budding and wonderful!

Week 2: Storytelling: Rapid Transformation

By: Kelsey Lake, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

Last week, the newness of RYSA was a lot for everyone to take in! It definitely took some time for everyone to warm up to one another. Many students were shy, others stood out as natural leaders, and everybody was trying to learn so many new names!

As Week 2 comes to a close, I can confidently say that the students of RYSA have moved through that stage! They are boldly stepping into a new phase of more confident exploration and creative risk-taking in the classroom, and this thrilling new energy has led to some beautiful breakthroughs in Storytelling class.

One student’s rapid transformation sticks out clearly in my mind.

Last week, one boy (let’s call him M) came into class and did his very best to hide. He shrunk away from our silly warm ups; if he started raising his hand, he’d catch himself, his hand shooting back down again. Once, when he did speak up, his frustration with finding the English words to express his idea made him hide his head in his hands and back into the corner of the room. Marcus and I could see him following what was going on, and knew he had all sorts of thoughts and feelings about class, but we struggled to find an opportunity that could help him shine.

Then, this past Tuesday, something completely unexpected and delightful happened. Halfway through the class, it was time to “wake up” Sparkles and Spellzy, our puppet friends who have helped us learn so much about the power of imagination.

“How can we wake up and welcome Sparkles and Spellzy?” we asked.

M raised his hand! Marcus and I were thrilled to see he wanted to participate and quickly called on him.

And then, out of NOWHERE, M started to sing. He came up with a fun, short song to help wake Sparkles and Spellzy, belting it out confidently in front of the entire class. It was brilliant! We asked him to teach it to the rest of the class, and it became a fun new way to bring the puppets into the room.

Since then, M’s light has been shining so brightly. He offers creative ideas, gets up in front of his classmates to act out silly skits, and sticks it out when he struggles to find words for what’s going on in that creative mind of his!

Alongside M, we’ve seen many students take their scattered, incredibly high energies and focus them into leadership roles. Other students are taking their English language acquisition to the next level by volunteering to read our stories out loud with growing confidence! It’s incredible to see how quickly these students are learning to trust their own voices and imaginations; they all have such unique, riveting stories to tell, and I can’t wait to hear them.

 

Week 1: STORYTELLING: Fact not Fiction

By: Marcus Crawford Guy, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

It’s hard to believe that training and week one of teaching at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) have already come and gone. Lots of information, data and procedures that were learned on paper and through presentation in the training sessions were put into practice, challenged and executed this week. It was so important to be reminded that we can only be trained based on what has happened in previous years and that only serves as guidance for the experience we are currently having. There is no standard way for a student to experience the programming at RYSA. It’s improvised and live and as an actor, I find it thrilling.

Most notably, I was taken aback at the extensive and complex English vocabulary that many of the lower school students demonstrated on the first day of class. It was an incredible gift to be met with students who not only had English language capabilities, but also felt (for the most part) uninhibited sharing them with the group. It was shocking in the best of ways, because Kelsey and I had buffered our lesson plan, almost scripting it, to ensure our use of language wouldn’t be confusing. We were met with lots of raised eyebrows, knowing smiles and nods of understanding that proved our students are ready for the next level of English language immersion, tutoring and acquisition.

In deciding how best to tell and share stories with the students, Kelsey and I decided that we wanted to distinguish between the real and abstract and teach these concepts with clarity. What is real, actual and based in fact — that chair is wooden — and what is fictional, abstract and imagined — there is a blue elephant dancing in the corner of the room. As trained actors, we decided to create two alter-egos, SPARKLES & SPELLSY who accompany us when we are telling stories and really challenge the students to see more than what they are – wooden spoons with pipe-cleaner arms and legs! In teaching our first class, where we learned to introduce ourselves and where we are from, we had a hearty laugh with Lower School 2 (the Flying Arrows!) when the following scene unfolded:

Marcus: Everyone say hi to Sparkles and Spellsy!
Students: Hi Sparkles and Spellsy!
Kelsey: Can anyone tell us where Sparkles and Spellsy are from?
Student A: They’re wooden spoons. They’re not from anywhere…
Marcus & Kelsey: … (exchanged looks – they’ve unraveled our elaborate plan already!)
Student B: I know where they’re from!
Kelsey: Where?
Student B: TOMATO SAUCE! They’re wooden spoons!

We then engaged the students in a dialogue about how it feels to be called the wrong name or incorrectly identified, which proved a useful hook for opening up the idea of imagination and investing in another reality, where we agree upon the circumstances presented to us. Their ability to grasp this idea quickly made it clear to see that our students are prepared to go on an exciting journey with us where they are not only playful, but curious and inquisitive – skills that will serve them well when they enter the school system later next month and that we want to encourage and cultivate.

Next week we will be continuing our exploration of THE SENSES and seeing how Sparkles and Spellsy — who are now so much more than their wooden spoon exteriors — hold up as the students learn more about how to tell stories by describing the world around them (real or imagined) with specific detail.






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